– How social workers can live their faith in the workplace was the focus of the latest annual conference of the Catholic Social Workers National Association.
“The association’s members … are united and called to live out the Gospel to carry out his mission, not only in our personal lives but professional as well,” president and co-founder Kathleen Neher told CNA Nov. 1.
“We share a common belief, which is to bring forth a culture of life by promoting the Catholic social teachings in the area of social work and in keeping with and faithful to the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.”
The association’s annual conference began Nov. 3 in Washington, D.C. at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. The group of professionals and students seek to have their occupation guided by the teachings of the Church. The organization also acts as a place of Catholic formation and source of spiritual strength.
In collaboration with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the group answers ethical questions regarding field practices and educates Catholics on what legislation is supported by the Church.
Neher said the association’s members gather annually “to network, pray and learn about current developments in their practice” with lectures on a wide variety of professions.
She said the goal of the conference is “to educate members on recent developments, gather Catholic social workers who don’t normally have a way to express their faith and beliefs in an accepting forum, and to celebrate our faith as we are united with the Catholic Church.”
Founded in 2005, the association’s members work in government agencies, health clinics, faith-based organizations and universities. They often work with the most vulnerable: Immigrants, addicts, veterans, pregnant women, children and the poor.
Neher said the association members want their clients to see them as representatives of St. Louis de Marillac, someone who cares deeply about moral and social problems and as “someone whose step they listen for as we go about serving their needs,” in his words.
Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Senior of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is an episcopal liaison to the group. He told CNA that a social worker’s profession is aligned to the Gospel’s description of charity: To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned.
Although works of mercy are part of the job for social workers, Senior said, it is still the role of all the laity to be a light of faith in the world.
“To have Catholics living their faith, that is something we want in every profession,” he said. “We want Catholics committing Catholics to be missionary disciples, as Pope Francis has called us all to be as a Church perpetually on mission.”
However, for the social worker, dealing regularly with intractable social problems is exhausting and challenging, In the bishop’s view, the organization is a source of spiritual and intellectual support.
“Social workers work hard and you are dealing with problems all the time and there is no way you can do that without finding some resource for life and refreshment,” he reflected. “We have ready access to that in our faith.”
In his role within the association, Senior will provide answers for members who struggle with a specific approach of an agency or have ethical questions on a certain practice in the field.
The association also informs its members on current legal issues. It advocates for laws in defense of human dignity.
“Our advocacy is grounded in Catholic social teaching and the teaching of the Church. Information is shared on a regular basis on issues that are impacting and of concern to social workers, such as religious freedom, sexuality and gender issues,” Neher told CNA.
Catholic social teaching is not only for Catholics, Senior said, but it envisions a just system he hopes would be made available for anyone.
“Catholic social workers are committed to implementing that vision for a just society, for the respect for human life, or addressing people in extreme poverty and their needs,” he said.